Around the public policy horn

Around the public policy horn

Wow. That’s the best way to describe two of the recently released details of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ new three-year contract with its unionized teachers. And that’s not a good “wow.”

The district and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers averted a strike when they reached a tentative contract in February. Last week, the teachers and other district employees approved the pact. The school board will take it up on Wednesday. Its rubber stamp appears to be a fait accompli.

But given the long and gross dysfunction of the district and its well-documented failings, the tax-paying public should be outraged over contract terms that defy rational thinking.

To wit, the new pact eliminates performance-based pay. The union won the day by calling the 8-year-old standard — determined by principal observations, student test scores and overall school performance — to be, in the words of a Tribune-Review story, “unfair, inconsistent and ineffective.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools will revert to what might as well be called “The Drone System” – a 12-step pay-raise regimen based primarily on seniority.

Then there’s a capitulation to the union involving teachers’ assignments. Again, from the Trib:

“(T)he district will be able to make 35 involuntary assignments a year to meet shifting school needs, so long as officials follow certain guidelines.

“Among them: No teacher may be involuntarily assigned more than once in five years, and no more than three teachers from the same school may be involuntarily reassigned in the same year.”

Who runs Pittsburgh Public Schools again? Certainly it appears that it’s not so much the district – but the union. And that should strike most thinking people as exactly backwards.

That this contract runs for three years (versus what seems to have become the standard five years for public school teachers) is of small consolation.

And that taxpayers – the public that pays for these things – are allowed to be privy to such contracts only after they are essentially signed, sealed and delivered certainly adds insult to the opaque racket that long has been public school teacher contracts.

Sayeth Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, after yet another group chided government’s continuing refusal to say how deeply it will allow Amazon to pick the public’s pocket for the “privilege” of locating a new headquarters here:

“If this region is chosen, any and all public incentives will go through a very public process during which residents may have every opportunity to weigh in.”

Just before local government types apply that big rubber stamp.

Taking the tax-paying public for common rubes is not a very becoming way to govern, now is it.

Writes Nick Kyriazi, in a Post-Gazette letter to the editor regarding calls for government to intervene in Pennsylvania’s struggling dairy industry:

“(I)f there is less market demand … perhaps the state should just buy all the milk produced by the dairy industry in Pennsylvania and give it away to the general public. …

“And if people won’t take it for free, the state can just pour it down the drain, because nothing is more important than keeping people in the same jobs even if there is no use for their products or services anymore.

“Perhaps if the state had been as alert back in the 1920s, it could have intervened in the private market when the services of blacksmiths were being impacted by the advent of the automobile and we could have saved the jobs of hundreds of horseshoers who could have continued producing horseshoes to this day.”

Well put, sir – well put.

A certain governor of a certain state running a certain advertisement for a certain reason make two incorrect statements:

First, this governor claims that Pennsylvania does not tax shale gas producers.

But it does, and it’s known euphemistically as an “impact fee.”

Second, this governor claims, as a justification to seek a second tax – a “severance” or “extraction” tax – that the shale gas below us “belongs to all of us.”

If he’s referring to “state”-owned lands, yes.

But if he’s talking about private land, then the right of property is a dead and rotting letter. Shale gas, as with any other mineral, belongs to property owners who hold the mineral rights to that property.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).